See Part 1
Since the 6th century St. Benedict’s monasteries established Catholic culture on the ruins of the crumbling empires of paganism. St. Benedict gave his monks detailed instructions to lead a life that is centered around the celebrations of the sacred liturgy and based on the precepts of charity: his rule allows a life in the harmony of nature and grace. St. Benedict’s rule includes all aspects of the life as a monk, even instructions of what to eat, how much to eat, how often to eat and how to eat with guests – who had to be received as Christ Himself.
“The capital sin of gluttony is an inordinate love of the pleasures attached to the eating of food.”
St. Thomas explains that in matters of eating food, “the appetite is twofold. There is the natural appetite, which belongs to the powers of the vegetal soul. On these powers virtue and vice are impossible, since they cannot be subject to reason … Besides this there is another, the sensitive appetite, and it is in the concupiscence of this appetite that the vice of gluttony consists.”
There Are Two Elements To Eating
Eating as a natural desire has two elements, St. Thomas calls them appetites: The desire to eat at all and the desire of the pleasures attached to the eating of food. The first desire, the natural appetite, can not be controlled by us, since our body needs a certain amount of food to continue to live. The second desire, or sensitive appetite – St. Thomas calls it also here concupiscence – is what gives us pleasure in tasting food, what satisfies our palate and makes us like to eat. Both desires belong necessarily together, but only the second appetite can be and must be subject to our reason. It is in this part that we exercise virtue – by controlling the concupiscence of our senses by acts of moderation.
Catholic teaching guides us to understand that there is no sin in us after baptism, and what we know as man’s desires – often inordinate ones – which are called “concupiscence”, is left in us for our moral betterment and proving.
The Church teaches that there are different ways to commit the sin of gluttony:
- Eating when there is no need, eating between meals and for no other reason than that of indulging food.
- Seeking delicacies or “daintily prepared meats”.
- Going beyond either appetite or need, with danger to health.
- Eating with greed, after the manner of animals.
Gluttony is a capital sin because it generates, so to say, easily other sins, especially sins related to the body. He who eats too much, easily lets his guard down and falls into other weaknesses. If these weaknesses are grave sins, even gluttony can be a mortal sin.
Who teaches us how to eat?
As in all other aspects of our life our ability to master our desires and to protect them from being inordinate depends on the health of our soul. “Fasting is instituted by the Church in order to bridle concupiscence, yet so as to safeguard nature”, explains St. Thomas. To eat well our soul needs strength and health – fasting well helps us to eat well.
St. Alphonsus Liguori wrote the following when explaining gluttony:
“Pope Innocent XI Odescalchi has condemned the proposition which asserts that it is not a sin to eat or to drink from the sole motive of satisfying the palate. However, it is not a fault to feel pleasure in eating: for it is, generally speaking, impossible to eat without experiencing the delight which food naturally produces. But it is a defect to eat, like beasts, through the sole motive of sensual gratification, and without any reasonable object. Hence, the most delicious meats may be eaten without sin, if the motive be good and worthy of a rational creature; and, in taking the coarsest food through attachment to pleasure, there may be a fault.”
Wouldn’t it help all of us to avoid the sin of gluttony better if we eat carefully, well prepared food, food that is healthy, food that is able to sustain us well without making us eating more and more of it? And to keep the meal-time, to fast rather than to eat before the meal-time? “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatsoever else you do, do all to the glory of God.” God’s grace allows us to return to virtue and strength which alone allows us to eat as Christians – and that is as truly human beings in all moderation.
St. John of the Cross, in his work “The Dark Night of the Soul” (I, vi), dissects what he calls spiritual gluttony. He explains that it is the disposition of those who, in prayer and other acts of religion, are always in search of sensible sweetness; they are those who “will feel and taste God, as if he were palpable and accessible to them not only in Communion but in all their other acts of devotion.” This he declares is a very great imperfection and productive of great evils.
Not in bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God.
Physical appetites are an analogy of our ability to control ourselves. If we are unable to control our eating habits, we are probably also unable to control other habits, such as those of the mind (lust, covetousness, anger) and unable to keep our mouths from gossip or strife. We are not to let our appetites control us, but we are to have control over our appetites. (See Deuteronomy 21:20, Proverbs 23:2, 2 Peter 1:5-7, 2 Timothy 3:1-9, and 2 Corinthians 10:5.) The ability to say “no” to anything in excess—self-control—is one of the fruits of the Spirit common to all believers (Galatians 5:22).
God has blessed us by filling the earth with foods that are delicious, nutritious, and pleasurable. We should honor God’s creation by enjoying these foods and by eating them in appropriate quantities. God calls us to control our appetites, rather than allowing them to control us.